Part walking simulator, part graphic novel, Beacon Pines is the perfect game to play during the autumn and winter months. An indie adventure that feels like the brainchild of an A.A. Milne and David Lynch collaboration (the official website even says as much!) it is the perfect introduction to the talented folk at the Austin-based developer, Hiding Spot Games
You assume two roles – the main character Luka – a young boy and anthropomorphic deer coming to terms with his father’s loss and his mother’s disappearance. You also fill the shoes of the author and reader of the storybook in which our tale takes place. Along the way you solve mysteries and rewrite events to bring the story to a conclusion that is not only satisfying to yourself but also to the book’s author who provides narration throughout. In fact, the main angle of the game is giving you the power to rewind time and diverge the story down different paths as you help Luka on his journey.
Taking place in the small, titular town of Beacon Pines, you encounter a diverse cast of other similarly sweet anthropomorphic characters, each with their own stories, lived experiences and traits. They all share one thing in common – an event that only six years prior had brought the entire town to its knees – The Foul Harvest.
Hope is not lost, however! Perennial Harvest, a fertilizer corporation with an unnervingly smiley veneer, arrives in town with the goal to jumpstart Beacon Pines and restore it to its reputation as an agricultural hotspot.
All is not what it seems though, with strange lights from Perennial Harvest’s production facility puncturing the night sky, and clipboard-toting, waistcoat-adorned corporate bodies walking the streets and badgering the local inhabitants for feedback.
However, the town is making preparations for its annual festival, and Perennial Harvest has positioned themselves as the event planner, coordinator and facilitator to ensure this one is the best yet. They can’t be all bad then…
During Beacon Pine’s 5-6 hour campaign, Luka collects several golden charms scattered across the town; each one engraved with a single word that has drastic consequences for the direction in which the story unfolds. At several predetermined points in the story, the author (voiced by the absolutely charming Kirsten Mize) will prompt you to complete a single sentence in the book by inserting a missing word. Time itself is represented by a large tree called the Chronicle, which is found within the pages of the book. As you progress through the story and more choices are made, the Chronicle will grow and additional branches will appear, with more options to change certain words and completely alter the sequence of events.
This allows for a game that, while on the surface looks very simple, is anything but linear. One moment you’re on chapter 8, the next you’re being transported back to chapter 5. However, this is anything but frustrating and is not seen as a punishment in the conventional gaming sense. Instead of being told to ‘do it right this time, getting the incorrect outcomes to the story serves the (ultimately) correct ending and only makes it more impactful. Words and phrases uttered by characters, seemingly insignificant events that take place, can take on new meanings and aren’t just forgotten about as each chapter starts to branch out in different directions.
With beautifully rich and colourful visuals, Beacon Pines does feel like a real storybook coming to life.
Yes, whilst Beacon Pines ultimately has something of a canonical ending, opting to not play fast and loose with its characters and how they are depicted; it is possible to go back and experiment with alternative outcomes at the end of the game. This is both equally fascinating and capable of packing an emotional punch because no matter the direction in which you take the story, there is so much care and love for the characters that their fates feel genuine. I’ll be the first to admit I’m quite the emotional type, and it’s fair to say Beacon Pines got me on a few occasions.
With beautifully rich and colourful visuals, Beacon Pines does feel like a real storybook coming to life. While the artwork that signifies moments of dialogue remains static, the game is so beautifully illustrated that your mind easily fills in the blanks and imagines this cast of characters as living and breathing.
The soundtrack is also glorious and scratches an itch I’ve had since Stardew Valley. At times sweet and uplifting, in others distant and somewhat melancholy, and even downright unsettling; it does wonders in complimenting the story.
Ultimately, Beacon Pines is a game I want to talk about only so much, for fear of giving too much away and informing your thoughts and feelings as the story unfolds. It’s a beautiful piece of narrative gaming, and feels familiar but also completely unique. I can’t recommend it enough.
Beacon Pines is out now on Nintendo Switch, Xbox S/X, Gamepass and Steam